Welcome back, readers.
Connor’s back at it with another bursting TMIVGV. Give it a look if you haven’t already!
Also from around the site, just a few days left to submit your recs to the annual This-Year-In-Videogame-Blogging end-of-year roundup!
This Week in Videogame Blogging is a roundup highlighting the most important critical writing on games from the past seven days.
The Self in Play
Our opening group this week covers a spectrum of self-identifications in play, recognizing both commonalities and divergences between player and protagonist. Some powerful stuff across the board here, readers.
- Before Your Eyes Understands the Trauma of Childhood Chronic Illness | Fanbyte
Elise Favis reflects on chronic illness, remembering, unremembering, writing, rewriting.
- Unpacking Vulnerability, Empathy and Player Agency | Unwinnable
Ruth Cassidy unpacks the frayed, fuzzy player/player-character boundary via Unpacking.
- I was a teenage transgender supersoldier | Polygon
Nat Steele writes about Halo, transness, Isabel Fall, putting on armor, taking it off.
“Other kinds of people (mostly white men) are the ones who get “human stories,’’ marketable stories. Trans people like me get allegory, allusions, and headcanons. (Someday I’ll tell you how Halo: Reach’s Noble Six is a he/him lesbian.) We get internet listicles of “trans-friendly characters” as human and real as Birdo. So trans people have to find ourselves in stories that weren’t written for us.”
Continuing a theme of tension from the previous section, this next group brings together pieces that examine narrative and thematic tensions to find games and series at odds with themselves, with their reputations, with their own critical arcs.
- Finishing Final Fantasy (Part II – Heavensward) – No Escape
Kaile Hultner, one expansion deep, faults FFXIV‘s inability to keep its charming character bullshit and weighty thematic ambitions in an amicable equilibrium.
- Metroid Dread lets Samus Aran be a bad-ass at last | Polygon
Maddy Myers reckons with the many faces of–and gazes upon–Samus Aran.
- Stardew Valley is Not an Anti-Capitalist Masterpiece – No Escape
Cassandra Roxburgh concludes that contrary to its reputation in some circles, Stardew Valley is a heartwarming communitarian game that nonethelss largely still colours within the lines.
“The Joja Mart path shows us the totality of corporate capitalism. One corporation controls every means of production and totally exploits the local community. The community center narrative wrenches control away from Joja Mart but rather than returning the means of production to everyone in the town, it trades one boss for another, and makes you the sole driving force behind its market economy.”
Design Beyond Default
Our next trio of selections this week unpack different axes of design, be it genre conventions, character writing, or accessibility.
- The Shared Dream of Saga Frontier | PixPen
Sam Howitt dwells on SaGa Frontier‘s dreamlike, familiar-but-different design, both narratively and mechanically.
- Deathloop Sets A New Standard For Black Characters In Games | Kotaku
O’Dell Harmon chats with Jason Kelley about creating Black characters in games that go beyond surface representation to deliver flavour, context, and depth.
- Difficulty in Video Games is Accessibility | Can I Play That?
Vanessa/PleasantlyTwstd discusses transparency, customizability, and giving the player the tools to succeed as complementary rather than contradictory to the design goals of challenge.
“When we talk about difficulty as an accessibility feature, we’re not asking for worlds to be wholly devoid of challenge, engagement, or the core mechanics — we’re asking for solutions that can be adjusted and catered for many people.”
No Fungin’ Thanks
Though it looks like player communities are widely recognizing NFTs for the ecocatastrophic grift that they are, a number of game publishers are pushing forward. Our next two selected authors this week take a closer look at why that is.
- Ubisoft, Stalker, Molyneux: Why Are Game Studios So Invested In NFTs? | TheGamer
Khee Hoon Chan examines why many publishers still see profit on the NFT bandwagon when even their player bases seem to be mobilizing against them.
- Steam might not like NFTs, but it laid the groundwork for them | PC Gamer
Natalie Clayton examines the precedents in games distribution that have led us to the present grifts.
“Steam didn’t invent the idea of bringing real money transactions into video games. MMO gold farmers and the Diablo 3 auction house scandal all play into the tensions between money and time, work and play, and how much of either we can afford to put into our hobbies. But Steam absolutely helped popularise the idea that digital jpegs could be worth thousands of dollars.”
It’s been great to see indie metrodvania/zeldalike/cool game Unsighted get some of the critical attention it deserves. Here are two standout selections.
- Unsighted Review: a stylish and queer hack and slasher | Gayming Magazine
Samantha Greer sums up Unsighted as a sometimes-overambitious game with enough heart to make it all worth it.
- Unsighted is an exquisite fight for survival | Polygon
Nicole Clark looks back at a metroidvania that grapples meaningfully and painfully with choice.
“The difficult tradeoff of who to save and who to leave behind is at the heart of Unsighted, and it’s a core feature of the world’s responsiveness. It’s tempting to try to save everyone, but you simply can’t.”
Chicory came out this year. Yeah. I know it’s hard to remember that far back. I’m right there with you. But it did, and it (and this piece closing out our week) are worth your time.
- Why Chicory: A Colorful Tale is one of the best video games of 2021 | Polygon
Ana Diaz reflects on how and why Chicory is and remains so dang relatable.
“Chicory: A Colorful Tale is balm for the weary soul or anyone who has felt confused and directionless. It doesn’t tell us that everything is going to be OK, and isn’t even that cheery of a game. But if you open yourself up and show your colors, well, it just might make someone’s day.”
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Have you read, seen, heard or otherwise experienced something new that made you think about games differently? Send it in!